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Trump vows to pursue new immigration law that already exists

Donald Trump intends to push for a law that would prevent immigrants from receiving welfare for five years. He has no idea that this law already exists.
Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with business leaders in the State Department Library on the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, April 11, 2017.

At his campaign rally in Iowa last night, Donald Trump received a very warm welcome from his audience, but one of the president's ideas received an especially rapturous standing ovation.

Reading from his trusted teleprompter, Trump declared, "The time has come for new immigration rules which say that those seeking admission into our country must be able to support themselves financially and should not use welfare for a period of at least five years."

Recognizing the popularity of what he'd just said, the president added, "We'll be putting in legislation to that effect very shortly."

As it turns out, that won't be necessary. The Hill reported that this idea already exists in a law created 20 years ago.

Known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), the legislation was passed during the administration of former President Bill Clinton and said that an immigrant is "not eligible for any Federal means-tested public benefit" for 5 years, which starts on the date the immigrant enters the country.There are exceptions under the law as to what qualifies as a federal-means tested public benefit. Some exceptions include certain medical assistance, "in-kind emergency disaster relief," and public health assistance for some vaccines.

I suppose it's possible Trump intends to "put in legislation" to change the restrictions that already exist, but it seems more likely that the president is simply unaware of current federal policy.

And those Iowans who stood to cheer the proposal, many of whom have been conditioned to believe the worst in response to the words "welfare" and "immigrants," probably didn't know about the existing restrictions, either.

This was hardly the only falsehood Trump offered last night, but it stood out in part because it helped capture part of the president's appeal. As many have noted over the last couple of years, Donald Trump really is that angry guy at the end of the bar, who doesn't really know what he's talking about, but who's nevertheless certain he knows the answers to the world's toughest questions -- and he's eager to tell you about how right he thinks he is.

Except in this case, 63 million Americans effectively decided last fall, "You know, that angry guy at the end of the bar who doesn't really know what he's talking about is making sense. Let's put him in the Oval Office."